Vikes, Wolves earn ECC titles; Christensen wins 400th
Ledyard — Paul Christensen knew all summer, perhaps even right after last season, that the autumn of 2023 just might feature the day or night he’d win his 400th game coaching boys’ soccer at East Lyme.
And the Vikings went quite a while this regular season undefeated, helping the fateful day creep closer, although a few stumbles in recent games slowed the process. But then maybe fate had an even better script planned, saving No. 400 for Thursday night.
In the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament championship game.
East Lyme 4, Norwich Free Academy 3. And a milestone for the coach his players affectionately call “Wally.”
“This was one of the main goals we had all season. It’s so historic,” East Lyme senior Brendan Osso said. “Four-hundred is a crazy number. We love Wally to death. His wisdom, his experience. I could go on about him.”
Christensen posed for a photo with his jubilant players, complete with a soccer ball and sign, each scripted with the number “400.” He even got the water bucket treatment (in 37-degree weather) during his postgame interview on GameDay.
“It’s a special night for me, my family and East Lyme,” Christensen said. “But this is about the kids. It’s their championship. It’s about all the others in East Lyme who built the soccer community.”
The Vikings made sure the special night for the coach and the program was bereft of drama, at least until a final NFA barrage, highlighted by Louis Jenkins’ goal with 38 seconds remaining, cutting it to 4-3.
Luke Salan scored in the second minute for East Lyme. Osso scored in the fifth minute and Finian Gates scored three minutes before halftime. Rob Stoddard scored in the second minute of the second half.
It turned out the accomplishments of Christensen and the Vikings were but co-headliners on the night. Montville earned an epic 2-1 win over St. Bernard in the ECC Division II title game, a game that wasn’t decided for 2 hours, 33 minutes and into the second round of penalty kicks.
Finally, senior goalkeeper and game Most Valuable Player Adonis Santiago stopped St. Bernard’s 10th penalty kick, touching off a wild celebration for the Wolves. It was Montville’s second Division II tournament title in three years.
“It’s overwhelming,” Montville coach Chris Ouelette said. “I’m losing my voice. You try to prepare them for this as best you can, but you can’t prepare them for that energy and that atmosphere.”
Indeed, fans for both games lined the fences in overtime and penalty kicks, generating a charged atmosphere the coaches and players said they hadn’t experienced all season.
“I didn’t really do much the entire game,” said Santiago, who stopped three of the Saints’ 10 penalty kicks. “I was just trying to keep a good mindset.”
Santiago even chatted with St. Bernard goalie Tim Regan between kicks.
“He’s a younger goalie and you could tell he hadn’t been in that situation,” Santiago said. “I said, ‘Just go do your thing.’”
Luis Salas-Montalvo gave the Wolves (14-2-2) a 1-0 lead in the first half. Alex Graul tied it for the Saints in the 65th minute, ultimately forcing two 10-minute overtimes and two penalty kick sessions.
Madden Brown, Jack Bowman, Eli Klusek and Noah Keenan scored on their penalty kick opportunities for the Wolves in the second round. Santiago did the rest.
“Like Geno (Auriemma) says, ‘We got him and you don’t,” Ouelette said, alluding to his goalie.
Santiago: “I trust my defense a lot. They have trust in me. Now it’s on to the states.”
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